Oct 182015
 
Photo Credit: Enric Fradera via CC.

Photo Credit: Enric Fradera via CC.

Good evening, afternoon, or morning to the international flash fiction community. What a fantastic round of MB that was: forty-three great entries and a few new faces (welcome, friends from IICS). Before the results, some announcements:

At 5 a.m. BST Tomorrow (Monday 19th October), voting will open for the best stories of this quarter. You’ll be voting for your top three stories from MB1.40 to MB1.52. The authors of the top three stories will each receive a copy of Writing Short Stories by Ailsa Cox (that’s a real book with paper and ink and that new-book smell), and will also go forward to the Micro Bookend of the year contest to be held soon.

Remember, after this round I’ll be taking a break while I deal with a major family event. The next contest will (hopefully) be on Thursday the 3rd of December. Watch out for Twitter updates.

Honourable Mentions

Greyscale by Steven O. Young Jr.

A curious story with a nice use of passing time to lead the reader through the story. A very literal use of the photo prompt for the town of Greyscale with its achromatopsia-afflicted (literal or figurative?) inhabitants.

Tippy Toe by Steven M. Stucko

One from the weird drawer the uses a single detail – the pointed leather shoes – from the photo. They’re so pointy that all male members of the proud Shoemaker family (I love the line, “The Shoemakers made sandals for Jesus, for Christ’s sake”) must have their little toes removed at birth to fit into them. Fun.

It Started With A Glyph by Ed Broom

Such a fun premise. A guy can’t get a date because he’s very particular about how she writes her number and uses silly childish rhymes to teach her. Made me chuckle. Still, our man does his duty and takes her dessert order. Great closing line.

The Infamous Uncle Enzo Stops By by AJ Walker

Another fun piece that had me laughing. While most stories had the man in the photo as a menacing figure, this one had him has the hapless Uncle Enzo, smoker of putrid cigars and clearer of restaurants.

The Hit by @dazmb

A very creative story that on another week may have made it into the top three. I love the use of code as the two Mafia men discuss the hit. The golf clubs, tee-off time, is the ball liable to run fast when I start putting. All very clever with a classic closing line, “My respects to your family.”

3rd Place

Courting Danger by Firdaus Parvez

This piece is just crammed full of conflict: the pressure from her mother to marry him to repay ‘the debt’; the fact he’s twice her age and “his huge frame filled the space across from her”; the fact her lover who was trying to persuade her to leave has recently been killed; and the clincher – when she realises the man in front of her was probably responsible for his death. The MC sums up her situation succinctly in the line, “Do I have a choice?” Excellent title too.

2nd Place

Long Shot by Brian S. Creek

So much tension for such a short story! From the details (“drinking his favourite coffee: a cappuccino, with cinnamon and chocolate on top”) you know this operation has been long in the making. We don’t know what the target has done, but the MC dislikes him (“the fat bastard”) and that’s good enough for us. I love the three short, short sentences, “My rifle waits patiently, trigger begging to be squeezed. My target looks up at the sun. My phone beeps.” Then BANG. It’s all over in a moment. Nice closing line.

Winner

Miscalculation by KM Zafari

This emotive piece made me think of two cultural references: the scene in The Godfather where Vito Corleone is frolicking with his grandson in the garden before dying the perfect death (oh, the injustice after he was the mastermind of so much violence) and Vultures by Chinua Achebe where “the Commandant at Belsen Camp going home for the day with fumes of human roast clinging rebelliously to his hairy nostrils will stop at the wayside sweet-shop and pick up a chocolate for his tender offspring waiting at home for Daddy’s return.” Yes, love can be found everywhere even in those “whose very name inspired fear.” The line “caskets were not supposed to be that small” had me reaching for the tissues. And the conclusion brings home the perpetual cycle of violence these people are involved in because you just know their families are going to want revenge…

Miscalculation

KM Zafari

Five years old. Capricious. Mischievous smile. He could still feel her tiny arms wrapped around his neck. “Faster, Grandpa!” she’d shout as he galloped around the house like a pony.

What a softie she turned him into. He, of all people, whose very name inspired fear.

Loving her left him vulnerable; he knew that. But there were unspoken rules, lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

Caskets were not supposed to be that small.

If they thought they’d finally broken him, they were right. Was it time to hang his hat? Perhaps.

But not yet.

He checked his watch. Dinnertime – perfect.

They were about to learn the true meaning of “family”.

Oct 112015
 
Photo Credit: via David Spinks CC.

Photo Credit: David Spinks via CC.

Welcome to the results show. Before we get down to business, an announcement:

On Monday the 19th of October, voting will open for the best stories of this quarter. You’ll be voting for your top three stories from MB1.40 to MB1.52. There will be prizes! The top three stories will also go forward to the Micro Bookend of the year contest to be held soon. Remember, you’ve got to be in it to win it, so if you haven’t had a winning story yet, this week’s contest is your last chance for this quarter.

Now please join me in thanking this week’s judge, Bill Engleson. Here’s what he had to say:

I have spent the morning reviewing these excellent entries. I have also felt the piercing pangs of judging. I will never visit a courtroom ever again, either on-line, on the Tube, or in an actual courthouse, without paying huge respect to the lot of the lonely judge.

Without meaning to sound like a wishy-washy, namby pamby non-judgemental sort of guy, may I say that I unreservedly found pleasure in each and every entry.

Another day, one cup of coffee more, or less, a different Toronto Blue Jays game echoing in the background of my Judges Chamber and the selections could have been different.

Anyway, I had a bit of a technological learning curve…new computer that I am slowly, agedly becoming familiar with. Also, if I seemed to have skimped on the length of my comments, I was trying to avoid my penchant for rambling on, a disreputable quality not suited to a micro fiction judge, or so I imagine.

Honourable Mentions

The Summer of Love by @dazmb

The wistfully sad, slightly bitter tone of this ode to the 60’s hooked me. Again, my time, albeit in the less raucous Canadian landscape. The image of idealists having fallen into the self pleasuring grace of gambling added to the sorrow.

CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE MYSTERY OF DORO STREET by Brian S. Creek

Maybe it is my uncomfortable and enduring affection for “The Birds” but this darkly funny tale (at least, I think its humorous) got me going. The punch line is so so true.

Help Wanted by KM Zafari

I am obviously a failed punster never having made the leap to Civil Serpent. This bit of witty commentary drew me right in, the balance of the job descriptions kept me going.

What’s in a Word by Stella Turner

I am a sucker for talking birds. There were a few entries that used this technique. The humane measures humour (or not) in this one struck a perverse chord in me. Worthy of a last-minute but no less valuable honourable mention.

3rd Place

Burtons Suit Blues by Ed Broom

Right out of the chute (or shoot) a great pun, very creative use of the bookend. And the tone of the end bookend…marvellous. This tale also pays homage to the Jazz Micro Bookends contest a short while back which I thoroughly enjoyed. A sad yet hopeful mood piece, I grant it 3rd place.

2nd Place

The Implacable Nature of Being by A V Laidlaw

As a former front line civil servant, I couldn’t help but be drawn in to this sojourn into a bureaucratic maze. With the smooth use of the bookends and the agony of seeking a correction, I signed off on 2nd place.

Winner

Blackbird by Karl A Russell

This sad and beautiful story ripped my sometimes cynical heart out. There is a snippet of humour, a quiet bowl of sorrow, some learning (I was once a marriage commissioner – one specific role filled by a humanist ceremonial officiant, I discovered.) Quite a complete and oh so loving story. My 1st choice.

Blackbird

Karl A Russell

“Civil partnership, is that it?”

“What? No Mum, that’s something else.”

“Oh. Well, what’s that other one then? Humourist or whatever?”

I can’t talk to her, so I look out of the window instead. The smokers in the shelter look like bedraggled birds, waiting to spread dressing-gown wings and soar toward the sun. I wish I hadn’t quit.

“We were partners though.”

I look back, feeling my throat tighten.

“I know Mum. I know.”

She looks like a little bird herself, perched at the bedside. She’s still holding his hand.

“It’s called a humanist ceremony. Yeah, I think he’d like that.”

She smiles through tears.

“Humanist. Yes, that’s right.”

Micro Bookends 1.49 – Results

 Results  Comments Off on Micro Bookends 1.49 – Results
Sep 272015
 
Photo Credit: Jimmy Baikovicius via CC.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Baikovicius via CC.

Welcome to the results show. Before we get down to business, please join me in thanking this week’s judge, Karl A. Russell, for sorting it all out. Here’s what he thought:

Hey, you hip and happening cats! I have cast my sweet peepers over your words and now I’m ready to lay some truth on you all.

Honourable Mentions

Blowing Smoke by Bill Engleson

Jazz is the soundtrack of choice for the film noir, the hard-bitten gumshoe its eternal anti-hero. Here we get an intriguing glimpse into a noir tale – how did he come by that scar? – before crashing headlong into a modern world of corner boys and dead ends.

Equinoxically Yours by F. E. Clark

A mixture of heady scents and evocative images, rhythmic and startling. Read this one aloud to truly appreciate it, preferably in a basement cafe while wearing a black turtleneck sweater.

Signed, Sealed, Awaiting Delivery by David Shakes

I’m a sucker for a good soul-selling tale, but too often in flash, the urge is to throw in a twist ending. Here we get a nice change, trading on the inevitable outcome of such a deal to make great use of the closing bookend, and the trick with the last / first word of most of the paragraphs was neat too.

3rd Place

Generation 1 by Brian S. Creek

I was never a fan of Transformers, but otherwise, I recognise everything in this piece – the need, the rationalisation, the attempts to bully yourself into growing up – and I’d bet good money that there’s an element of autobiography in here. I’d also bet that he went ahead and bought it anyway…

2nd Place

Scott Free by Bill Engleson

This came closest to the free-flowing improvisation of great jazz, with a slightly unusual format that catches the eye, made up of words to captivate the ear and a seemingly random association of discordant phrases and images that create something that’s part poem, part story and more than either combined.

Winner

Mother Knows Bert by Ed Broom

Miles Davis famously said that jazz is as much about the notes you aren’t playing. Fittingly, this week’s winner is all about the words that aren’t being written. The auto-corrected text is a delight, and a wonderfully original way to incorporate the bookends without having to actually use them in the story at all.

Mother Knows Bert

Ed Broom

JAZZ COMES!

Mum’s right, of course, in her own unpredictable Nokia text speak. Lazy bones is exactly what I am. I should have popped round today to say hello and to talk about Col’s birthday. Unlucky lad had his Raleigh nicked last week and she wants me to find him a replacement on eBay.

THIS BILE. WHAT SHOULD I SAX?

Pay what you like, Mum. This 18 speed hybrid looks good, though. Auction ends later tonight and the current price is £40. I think it would be a steal at twice that.

OK. NAY 100 POUND. INCREASE MY AGE.

Aug 232015
 
Photo Credit: Xenja Santarelli via CC.

Photo Credit: Xenja Santarelli via CC.

Welcome to the results show. We had 44 entries for MB1.44. Spooky? Not as spooky as some of your flashes. A huge thank you to this week’s judge, Rebekah Postupak, for sorting it all out. Here’s what she thought:

You fabulous flashers never fail to surprise me. Where most weeks we exclaim over the myriad directions writers take a single prompt, this week you seem to have collided in one bone-chilling mass of shadows that quite set my teeth chattering. This week story was shoved aside by étude; you paused in creepy alleyways (including a most unusual iteration by [Chris and] Mike) and creepy cellars, watched silently in creepy forests and one extremely creepy library (or at least a library with a not-to-be-messed-with librarian).  Thank you once more for entrusting your writing to us and allowing me to share my flimsy thoughts. Love this Craft? Oh yes. Oh, dear creepers in the night, yes.

Honourable Mentions

Daughter of the Crafty One by Stella Turner

Holy worldbuilding, er, Beelzebub. This story is stark, as though told by a creature in chains and blinders: the narrator weaves his portrait of this world and his own passivity in a terrifying ignorance. We are given a single tiny scene, and in that scene we see (hear?) only hints of the violent overlords. Head down, mind your own business, needle in and out. This is a tapestry of life no one would wish for, beautifully and horrifyingly sketched. Great job.

Lovestruck by Firdaus Parvez

From the opening line (“Love is the most evil person”), we were set down a glorious path of angry opposites. This dark Cupid carries poisoned arrows and bares fangs, and though he still dutifully loathes hatred, as the tale progresses, we’re shown a unexpectedly creepy exhumation of his actions and motivations. The concept was fun, the voice fantastic, and the execution here really well done as we watch him work, from the tongue-in-cheek opening to the gleeful, hand-rubbing end.

500 Miles For Freedom by Ed Broom

One of the few takes personifying the closing bookend, I loved seeing Ellen & William Craft recognized. “Craft” is a name perfectly suited to this courageous couple who made their own way in a world set against them, and it was wonderful seeing their story so well executed here, from the title to Billy’s name to their flight to Philadelphia. This modern interpretation, echoed in today’s headlines, shows that over 150 years later, we still have a long way to go. Thank you for this story—and here’s to the fight for freedom everywhere. May it continue.

4th Place

What Would Freud Say? by KM Zafari

This story was a hilarious romp from beginning to end: the dry, lonely professor who thought he could isolate the composition of love (“attraction plus compatibility”) and was proven most spectacularly wrong. But the punchline, though funny, isn’t what sets this story apart. It’s the subtle character development and worldbuilding, painted with a powerfully understated and masterful hand. And let’s not forget the fourth-wall-breaking title. This story is clever and knows it, but it’s so clever, we buy the whole kit and caboodle anyway. Awesome.

3rd Place

Strange Love by Marie McKay

Like “What Would Freud Say,” this story pairs a non-romantic human with an alien, only this time our would-be hero is following a romantic how-to book. The book’s instructions enable a fun story structure as the protagonist struggles to demonstrate a love he doesn’t feel to begin with. We follow the progress of the bumbling lover, and at a perfect calculated midpoint, suddenly his rattling tray meets the beloved’s monotone. “I cannot process tea,” she says, and in a hysterical downward spiral the lover’s efforts crumble and crash into failure. The really fantastic worldbuilding and the sophisticated pacing are what knocked me off my feet. So good.

2nd Place

First Day on the Job by Sonya

Capping a very impressive trio of runners up is this dark vignette with its chilling shades of Screwtape. The world is unveiled line by line as blacklight shines first on the humans, then on the apprentice and mentor, and then, finally, on the nature of the grim (haha) work being done. It’s dark labor set in shadowed irony against the story’s faceless title, and the unveiling is done with surgical precision. I love this piece’s intelligent voice and its arrogantly apathetic dismissal of its prey. Beautifully constructed and so very, very well crafted. Beware indeed.

Winner

Submission by Steph Ellis

“Submission” is so delicious, I could go on about it for a good full page or two: its layered storytelling, the sandwiched question structure, the portrayal of a forward-moving, lonely journey down dark roads to the “gates of perdition” (did anybody else picture the Black Gate??), the conscious, Poe-like unraveling of the narrator’s rational thought, and the double entendre of its flawless title. On one hand the story reads like a play to the judge (surely not!); on the other, for us flash fiction writers, this story speaks to the overpowering obsession we share. And therein lies the methodical genius behind this piece, because it’s specifically targeted AND simultaneously reaches past that target to a shared universal experience: that of sacrificing for something badly wanted. This story paints for us the cruel prison of the artist, the athlete, the addict. We recognize the character’s self-incrimination because those words fall from our lips at the same moment we ourselves are yielding. The character here is so well-drawn, we look deeply into the darkly lined face only to discover it’s a mirror. Powerfully, ironically, magnificently done, dear winner. And now—laptops to sleep, but only for a moment: tomorrow the flash week begins all over again, and, may God have mercy, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Submission

Steph Ellis

Love is a light that has faded from my life. The roads I have taken, dark and lonely. My journey, as I cast off friends like worn-out clothes, is one they cannot follow. It is obsession that has brought me here, to this place.

Will my words gain my admittance, my acceptance? Or will I be rejected and be sent back into the void?

I cling to my sanity, now wafer thin and leave my offering at these gates of perdition, my words, my other self. And wonder again at how I have been consumed by this craft.

Jun 252015
 

Welcome back. Something a little dystopian for you this week. Enjoy:

Big Brother is a fictional character from George Orwell‘s 1949 dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is the leader (or perhaps a symbolic figurehead) of Oceania, a totalitarian state where the leading party has absolute power of the citizens. The citizens are reminded of Big Brother’s presence by the slogan, “Big Brother is watching you”, a reference to the ever-present government surveillance. Today the term is often used in a derogatory way to describe a snooping authority figure, or attempts by government to increase surveillance. It’s also the name of TV show.

Orwell, who was born on this day in 1903, was evidently fond of lists. His essay, A Nice Cup of Tea, lists eleven points for making the perfect cuppa, and The Moon Under Water, all the qualities of his favourite, fictional, pub. In his essay, Politics and the English Language, Orwell offered six rules to reverse the decline of the English language:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Join me in thanking George Orwell for giving us Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, and the perfect cuppa, with this week’s photo prompt:

Photo Credit: Ian Muttoo via CC.

Photo Credit: Ian Muttoo via CC.

The Judge

Judging this week’s contest is Ed Broom, winner of MB1.01, MB1.28 and MB1.36. Read his winning stories and what he has to say about flash fiction here.

What?

A story of between 90 and 110 words starting with BIG and ending with BROTHER and incorporating the photo prompt.

Who?

Anyone, but especially you!

Why?

Why not! Because it’s fun. Because it’s a challenge. Because the winner will receive their own winner’s page, their story on the winning stories list, a ‘Who is the author?’ feature to be posted next week, entry into the ‘Micro Bookend of the Year’ competition, and a copy of this year’s winning stories compilation.

When?

Now! Get your entry in BEFORE 5:00 am Friday (UK time: http://time.is/London).

Where?

Here!

How?

Post your story in the comments section. Include the word count and your Twitter username (if you’re Twitterized). Don’t forget to read the full rules before submitting your story.

Anything else?

Please give your story a title. It will not be included in the word count.

Please try to leave comments on a couple of other stories. It’s all part of the fun, and everyone likes feedback!

Remember, only stories that use the bookends exactly as supplied (punctuation, including hyphens and apostrophes, is allowed) will be eligible to win.

Jun 212015
 
Before we get down to business, a quick reminder that the second Flashdogs anthology was officially published today. There are two books: Solstice : Dark and Solstice : Light. All proceeds go to the fantastic charity, The Book Bus. Click the images below to go to your local Amazon store where you can get your hands on these beautiful books.
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Endless

Photo Credit: Hernán Piñera via CC.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this week, and thanks to Geoff Le Pard for some excellent judging. The man’s a legend 😉 . Here’s what he thought of it all:

As a first time judge I had no idea what to expect but in 30 stories I confronted absorbing lifts, time-travelling Pope killers, Keith Urban the worst date night, the sad demise of the rural vampire and, of course Chris and Mike v…. Boy, do you guys have imaginations. Dystopia was a popular theme – no one seemed to link ‘URBAN’ with sunny uplands – as was the soul sucking nature of mirrors. Loved it, peeps, so muchas ta-everso.

David, being a natural tyrant insists this isn’t a primary school egg and spoon race where you all get a prize so…

Honourable Mentions

Dudetastic by Holly Geely

I suppose it’s because I can relate to the narrator’s confusion over language, in much the same way I was confused when confronted with Chaucer. ‘When did I stop understanding teenagers?’ When does anyone who isn’t a teenager understand them? The pain of the narrator is so clear. But please, tell me ‘Dudetastic’ isn’t the coming expression?

O Tempora! O Mores! by Geoff Holme

Where to start with this? The typo that means the wrong Pope is targeted. The innocence of appearing as a Christ-like figure that convinces the visited Pope to undertake the most compassionate mission tragically curtailed after 12 days because of the confused mission. I shouldn’t laugh, really, but…

Dates Dwindle by Iskandar Haggarty

A date gone wrong. I loved ‘Empty see-you-soons’. And the reference to ‘a little steam escaped her latte’ as she seethed at his comment. I was with that poor sucker, sure he was striking the right note only to realise too late it was just the death knell.

The Faymus Professys of Archibald Legend by A.J. Walker

Please read this, flash writers extraordinaire and tell me this doesn’t relate at some level to all of us. ‘Zombie apocalypse on steroids’ is a frightening concept but when linked to Flash dogs is truly mind altering. ‘Wolves with Thesaurus’ and saying Pratchett could have been one but for his use of footnotes to bypass the word count – perfect and laugh out loud funny (in context of course). My favourite line…

They chew their stories – Spitting out large morsels; keeping only the essential juicy bits’

That is the perfect mirror held up to us all.

3rd Place

Intervention by Pattyann McCarthy

Here is a live story told in 100 words. Elsie is a relic of the past, fighting her corner and for others amongst newly infiltrating gangs. She assumes she’s left alone because she is an anomaly but in fact it’s because she is the legend of the streets. Of all the stories this contained so much, allowing me to imagine a whole life spent and imagine the future too. Excellent.

2nd Place

Walk by Marie McKay

I took to this story immediately. Our unnamed narrator is a wage slave who has ‘a clock for a soul’. He is one of the pen-pushing ‘dead’. If you’ve commuted, you understand the precision of ‘ten mouthfuls of cornflakes, two coffees, one sugar’ and ‘spoonfuls of time measured out in crockery’.

Just when we’ve settled to this drudgery he spins the twist. Today is different. Today it’s ‘head and heels high’ our hero is ready ‘to walk the runway of catcalls and traffic cones’. Great stuff.

Winner

Miss Otis Has No Regrets by Ed Broom

This has everything. A story with depth, backstory and the stimulus for the reader’s imagination to think about the future; beautiful imagery; and some excellent humour.

Beryl is retiring from the planning department – now ‘Urban Design’. Jim has retired too ‘He got golf clubs. She has Amazon vouchers’.

The dialogue sums up so many retirements: ‘Don’t forget us Beryl’ ‘I won’t!’ I already have.

She glances at the gridlock ‘Jim’s idea, the one-way system’.

But just when we assume Jim is her nemesis we have Beryl blushing at her memory of journeys on the permanently moving ‘paternoster’. ‘Those up-and-over journeys passed into legend.’

I really enjoyed this simple tale, so well told. Thank you; now I want to know what will happen to Beryl and Jim in retirement!

Miss Otis Has No Regrets

Ed Broom

“Urban Design” reads the self-adhesive sign on the closing door. Beryl wonders what became of that polished brass “Planning” plaque which greeted her for 35 years. Jim probably pocketed it when he retired. He got golf clubs. She has Amazon vouchers.

“Don’t forget us, Beryl!”

“I won’t!”

I already have, she thinks, glancing down at the 5pm gridlock. Jim’s idea, that one-way system.

As usual, one lift is dead. Such a shame they removed the paternoster. “On you hop, it doesn’t stop!” was Jim’s catchphrase. In the lift door, Beryl catches herself blushing. Those up-and-over journeys passed into legend.

May 032015
 
Photo Credit: Dan Markeye via CC.

Photo Credit: Dan Markeye via CC.

Welcome to the results show. First, a huge thanks to this week’s judge, Ed Broom. As always you made judging a tough gig. Ed handled it with aplomb. Here’s what he thought of it all:

Perhaps inevitably given the unfortunate Kaspar Hauser and that rather creepy photo, there were an awful lot of equally unfortunate children in a lot of nasty mazes, sewers and other subterranean structures. Not all of them made it out. Yikes.

At times it felt quite claustrophobic down there in the deep dark dampness of an asylum or breeding chamber or wartime tunnel. I’d guess that the body count reached a new high this week with many other troubled souls left along the way.

That aside, there was much quality writing (including some excellent poetry) and some highly original ideas. Above all, though, I wanted stories. The ones I’ve picked out below all told tales which hooked my interest. I cared for the characters and rooted for them as individuals.

As ever, congratulations to all of you for taking the time and trouble to enter given the huge constraints of this competition: you all deserve a medal. Go print off one now and stick it on your monitor. And three cheers to Micro Bookends Dave, obviously. Anyway, over to the judge and jury for the prizes.

Honourable Mentions

Set Free by Dylyce P. Clarke

A troubled boy – possessed or probably only guilty of being different – is expelled from the city, his home. Some nicely straightforward writing quickly gives us the backstory then cuts to the stranger who utters a single word. Should the boy take his hand? I like the fact that we can’t see inside the boy’s head and that we’re left hanging. Please let that stranger be a good man!

Rat Child Found in The Dales. Chief Inspector to Investigate by Foy S. Iver

It takes something to raise a titter from the story of a feral child, but that line – “That she was raised by cave rats?” – tickled my ribs. As if that Chief Inspector didn’t have enough on his plate, poor chap, here’s something else to sort out. Funny and farcical dialogue, well constructed, and I’d like to hope that the author used this story to flip the bird to a real acquaintance named Kerry.

Dashed Again by Meg Kovalik

The intriguingly named and cloaked Orion presents himself for examination by his spectral father figure through some sort of grate. We sail from the highs of wild optimism to the lows of rejection in a mere 100 words. I love that carefully chosen verb, “flail”, but I especially like everything that we’re not being told. Why does the gate open so infrequently? What must Orion do to succeed? What will happen if he does succeed? An enjoyably enigmatic tale.

3rd Place

Dreams Soaked In Gasoline by Iskandar Haggarty

A heady blend of poetry and prose here with echoes of the late Syd Barrett’s crazy diamond. Plenty of killer phrases and imagery from that “stale cigarette” to the “words of dead poets” and that repetition of “discarded”. Love that title, too. Anyone else reminded of the great Tom Waits? She, the central character, sounds wise beyond her years. Does she really go up in flames? A “damned revolutionary” – good work, soldier.

2nd Place

Life, One Fungus at a Time by Emily Clayton

Mum’s gone leaving Dad and daughter, quickly becoming the image of her mother. Lots to love here: “like a granny without her specs” is a terrific turn of phrase, even more so when applied to a young child. Another well chosen verb, “huffs”, perfectly captures her impatience, and I like the pairing of that “military stance” and “Captain Kaylie”. As if that weren’t enough, we should mention the mushrooms. The evil mushrooms which “ate a child.” I’m not sure I want to know too much more about this: I’m a wee bit scared. Quality piece of writing.

Winner

Away Sweet Child, Ride Away by R Matt Lashley

Maybe it’s the smooth use of not one but two classic lyrics (for which I am a complete sucker) as Bookends. Maybe it’s the way these refer to that single FM station emerging from that “one working speaker.” Maybe it’s that “new-to-her” or “fresh biscuit dough” wordage. Maybe it’s the automatic associations invoked by that ’82 Datsun. It’s all these, of course, and more besides. For me, topping the lot like a bright red cherry, it’s the sheer unbridled optimism of this story. She’s had a torrid past but now she’s getting out: this, people, is the feel good story of the year! Don’t you want to be sitting right there in the passenger seat as she floors the gas or, at the very least, shouting encouragement? Excellent stuff with a top-notch title too. Class!

Away Sweet Child, Ride Away

R Matt Lashley

“Wild thing, you make my …” The Troggs’ tune, barely perceptible over the whir of tires, crackled and popped from the front left of the new-to-her dark blue ’82 Datsun. The radio received one station: classic rock. The one working speaker, like her life, was shattered.

But today, the lonely, abandoned, broken girl who sold five dollar handjobs on the subway would disappear forever.

She wiped the dollar store makeup from her eyes then floored the gas. Hot desert wind blasted her face, baking her cheeks like sticky, fresh biscuit dough. Then she cranked the volume, tossed her head back and howled with Axl, “Woah, oh, oh, oh, sweet child …”